Joan of Arcadia: Bringeth It On

Joan of Arcadia was a series on CBS for two seasons a few year back which I absolutely loved, and Sci-Fi has recently started showing reruns. It centers on a teenage girl named Joan Girardi who’s recently begun receiving visits and instructions from God. They’re not orders (this version of God is very big on free will) more like slightly pushy suggestions. Build a boat, get your brother a present, or in the case of the most recent episode, try out for the cheerleading squad. Each episode also usually includes a story of the case that Joan’s father Will (a detective) is working on; in this one it’s a newborn baby abandoned. The cops received an anonymous call, circumstances lead them to Arcadia High where Joan and her younger brother go and their mother Helen works in the principal’s office.

“Bringeth It On” has more good things in one episode than a lot of shows manage in a whole season. I hardly know where to start: the complete lack of surprise the Girardi family shows for Will making breakfast while Helen sleeps in on the weekend? Joan’s friend Grace’s verbal smackdown of a popular girl who tried to insult her by calling her a lesbian? Helen doing everything she can to watch out for the female students while the D.A. is pushing the police on a witchhunt to make an example of the teenage mother? Adam’s complete acceptance of Joan’s sudden interest in cheering in contrast with Grace’s disgust at something so perky and mainstream?

The police started by going to the school and asking to interview students who could be the girl they’re looking for, and Vice Principal Price had helpfully compiled a list of girls he thought were most likely. Helen quite rightly refused to make any copies for the investigation or give it back– Price claims he’s qualified to identify “at risk” students, but Helen says they just don’t fit his ideal of the perfect young lady and that the only reason her own daughter isn’t on the list is because Will’s the chief of police. And why aren’t they talking to any boys? They eventually decide to have a small group of people listen to the 911 tape to see if anyone recognizes the voice. Showing some shocking naivety Will says later in private that the list would never have been made public, but as Helen points out “The CIA couldn’t keep that list from getting out in a high school”.

Meanwhile Joan kind of misses the point about cheerleading, like she usually does at first. She’s becoming friends with the cheerleaders and letting it tear apart her new friendship with Grace. Even tacitly condoning the list some of the girls are drawing up of the likely candidates and barely speaking up when someone suggests Grace. Joan is confusing popularity with friendship, as God tells her.

Eventually things work out in the usual indirect manner: Helen happens to answer Joan’s cell phone and recognizes cheerleader Brianne’s voice from the tape. Once word gets out, Brianne transfers out of the school and Joan stops to talk to her while she’s waiting for her dad to get the paperwork, and Brianne says that Joan’s the only person who’s asked how she is. The only one who’s even talked to her: all her so-called friends had seen her and purposely ignored her. It’s easy to see it as the catty cheerleader stereotype but everyone in school is talking about what happened, the only extra criticism for them is that they were the people closest to her and didn’t have a clue.

The point is that Brianne would NEVER have made it onto Price’s “at risk” list. She’s a nice girl from a nice family and was outwardly happy and social. The point is things like this don’t just happen to the “bad” girls, and being there for someone when they need friends the most should be more important than your reputation. And Joan takes the opportunity to point that out in a public forum at her final tryout. In cheer form!

Go, Eagles, Go, Eagles, Go, go, go Eagles!
We live to cheer
We’re so sincere
Unless you get in trouble — then we’re outta here

‘Cause it’s such a royal pain when a friend gets arrested
How could I have known? How could I have guessed it?
It’s not like she’s my sister — whoops, is that my beeper?
And even if she was, am I my sister’s keeper?

Sorry, gotta go, tryouts are today.
Tell her we’ll think of her every time we say
Go, Eagles, Go, Eagles, Go, go, go Eagles!

My name is Joan
This cheer is my own
So kiss my feathers, ’cause this bird has flown.

The episode takes time to make an excellent point about how much criticism and shame is heaped on a girl in this situation while also making the point that none hits the boy who’s also responsible. After Helen’s first question about why they aren’t talking to any boys, he’s not mentioned at all until the very end. That D.A. who was so eager to prosecute a teenage girl for attempted murder? Declines to press any charges at all, even endangerment. When Will’s telling Helen about it at the end, she drops the info that Brianne’s boyfriend is the son of a Councilman, but nobody ever asked about him. We never even saw him, and only learned his name in the last 30 seconds of the show. Yes, she was hiding the pregnancy but no one else showed any interest in even finding out who the father was.

The boyfriend’s absence is used to contrast the reduced expectations he’s held to while highlighting the many ways Brianne is being punished– does anyone for a minute believe that he’ll be shunned the way Brianne was? Does he have to transfer schools? The only reason he comes into it at all is when they decide to bend rules to make his and his father’s lives easier. Seems to me that Brianne would be the better subject of such concern. But no, it was entirely her responsibility. Can’t think why she panicked. And I can’t think why we so rarely see the intrinsic unfairness shown like this.

Comments

  1. says

    I miss Joan of Arcadia so much. It was a great show and had *revolutionary* things like a female lead concerned with being a good person, two women talking to each other about things other than men, etc.

  2. sbg says

    I loved Joan of Arcadia. It had a bit of a sophomore slump, but I think had it been given a chance we would have seen even more great television. It was intelligent and thought-provoking.

    I have been watching on SciFi as well, and I just about stood up and cheered myself during the course of this episode. So many salient issues, all being handled at once and all with wit and class. You really don’t see that often. *le sigh*

  3. says

    Oh, Joan!

    I never got to watch it – I read the recaps at TWOP and fell deeply in love with it.

    One of the things I really remember about the show, other than the things others have already mentioned, was that it showed a person with a disability – and a very life-altering one at that – as part of a family, that had to struggle with learning to accept & adapt. Kevin (IIRC) is not a Super!Crip, he’s had his whole life turned upside down, and yet, he gets a job, he learns to drive, his family fights with him, it’s so damned normal. And I loved it.

    *sigh*

  4. Genevieve says

    Mmm, Joan. This show had so much awesomeness…including a cool Rabbi…I don’t have much to add right now, just wanted to say that I love that you wrote about this, Maggie.

  5. MaggieCat says

    It was a great show and had *revolutionary* things like a female lead concerned with being a good person, two women talking to each other about things other than men, etc.

    Part of what I love about it is that it had such a wide range of female characters who were completely different personalities. I can only think of one other show that’s managed to have women as varied as Glynnis, Grace, Helen, Lily, and Joan all in one show. (Actually you rarely see a Grace done well anywhere, let alone allowed to interact with women like Joan and Helen on such a friendly level.)

    I loved Joan of Arcadia. It had a bit of a sophomore slump, but I think had it been given a chance we would have seen even more great television. It was intelligent and thought-provoking.

    The second season definitely had some rough spots; I’m still irrationally angry with the both of those Duff girls because I feel like their stunt casting was instrumental of the show’s demise. (I said it was irrational.) Most shows seem to have iffy patches in their second seasons, which makes sense since a lot of people probably spend so much time just trying to get the first season of their show on the air that they neglect to thoroughly pre-plot the second, but it was righting itself by the end. I think that might be what makes it so sad– I’m not sure if there’s anything more depressing tv-wise than watching a how you love falter and then get cancelled just as it’s getting really good again. *sigh*

    I know that two decent seasons of Prison Break wasn’t near enough to make up for cancelling it with the Ryan Hunter thing unresolved like that. (Er, same actor, since the association is probably only obvious to me.) I wanted to know if he was really evil, dammit!

    it showed a person with a disability – and a very life-altering one at that – as part of a family, that had to struggle with learning to accept & adapt. Kevin (IIRC) is not a Super!Crip, he’s had his whole life turned upside down, and yet, he gets a job, he learns to drive, his family fights with him, it’s so damned normal. And I loved it.

    This is one of the things that made me love the show so much– that it didn’t turn Kevin into a martyr but they still showed how hard it was for him personally to deal with the way people started treated him differently. He was kind of an entitled ass before, and he was the one who had to cope with suddenly being one of the people he might not have been so nice to before. This is the first show I remember ever calling out just how drastic that mental shift would be for him. I almost stood up and cheered at the episode where Kevin’s about to quit because someone claimed that he was hired because he was disabled and Rebbecca clued him in that as a white/good looking/able-bodied male everything was coming his way before and now it’s going to be a little bit harder, and some day he’ll remember her as maybe the first person who refused to pity him. It’s awesome enough that his family still treated him the same (with superficial adjustments) but to let someone he just met point something like that out and have him realize that she’s right? Genius.

  6. says

    some day he’ll remember her as maybe the first person who refused to pity him.

    *blink* I never watched JoA, but the other day I was flipping channels in between constant life interruptions when I came across what must have been this very scene (that’s almost exactly what she says, right?). I didn’t know what was going on, but something about the tiny snippet I saw impressed me.

    The episode you describe in the article sounds awesome. I get so sick of hearing people rail about issues like abortion with constant chatter about the women and not one word about the men. Every unwanted pregnancy involves a man. Men really do have something to do with all this stuff. Do we not have biology classes anymore?

  7. MaggieCat says

    Men really do have something to do with all this stuff. Do we not have biology classes anymore?

    Apparently a lot of people think that whole virgin birth thing is a workable defense? ;-)

    Really, this is a case that shows it up very well because the focus on the mother could make sense if she was being criticized just for leaving the baby since it’s possible the father didn’t know. But she’s not. She’s being attacked for all of it, with students going for words like “skank”, when at the very least she shouldn’t be the only one being questioned. And only one person thinks his involvement matters until it comes to someone’s attention that he needs to be protected? Too believable to be comfortable.

    I never watched JoA, but the other day I was flipping channels in between constant life interruptions when I came across what must have been this very scene (that’s almost exactly what she says, right?). I didn’t know what was going on, but something about the tiny snippet I saw impressed me.

    Yeah, I think that’s pretty close to what she said. I love that whole scene and it’s stuck in my head even though I hadn’t seen it in years– earlier Kevin overheard Andy saying he was hired for the gimp points and tells Rebecca (played by Sydney Tamiia Poitier) he’s quitting. She tells him not to pay attention to it and calls Andy a pissy queen (which I’d normally loathe but for the rest of the scene) and Kevin says “Oh goody, we all have nicknames. What’s yours?” “Affirmative Action Figure”. She heard it every day when she first got there and cried every night at home, but never let those people see that it bothered her. She came back and she made herself indispensable.

    Major compliments to both Poitier and Jason Ritter, because that was amazing to watch: Kevin realizing that he had it pretty darn easy in the “people making assumptions about your worth” sweepstakes before his accident and that other people having been fighting similar their whole lives, and Rebecca giving him that information without coddling but without being cruel.

    Actually I should probably write up that episode, what with its excellent calling out of a rapist who’s using the Nice Guy defense (Not my fault, she’s a psycho, you can’t talk to a woman these days without getting accused, blah blah blah. All the classics.) and the attack the victim ends up facing from a bad prosecutor.

  8. says

    I LOVE this show! I hadn’t seen that it was in reruns, awesome. I’m so glad you posted about it.

    I was thinking about doing a rewatch of both seasons and reviewing them on Heroine Content, but honestly it doesn’t really fit our mold there, so I am really happy to see it addressed here.

  9. Sandra says

    I never saw Joan of Archadia on CBS, just found it on SciFi and I think it is one of the best shows I have ever seen! They have shown only 5 series, they skipped a couple of weeks but I sure hope they will continue to show them all! I will be very unhappy if I do not get to see all the shows! does anyone know if they are being shown on a differant channel? if so, please inform me!

  10. says

    I really miss Joan of Arcadia. We loved the show and I remember this episode as one of my favorites when it first aired. I didn’t know Sci-Fi was rerunning the show, I’ll have to try and catch some of it.

    I just remember that (most of the time) Joan’s family treated everyone like a person. It’s amazing how simple that is yet how profoundly different from most of the schlock on TV. (Oh, and I loved all the different versions of God.)

  11. says

    That sounds like such an awesome programme! Wish I could have seen it… I may have to try and get the 1st series…
    Sad to think that it’s such an unusual idea for a show though – oh em gee, a female protagonist! Who is kick ass! Who stands up for herself and others! What were they thinking? *Sigh*

  12. says

    I just finished watching the first season of Joan of Arcadia on Netflix. Partway through I also started watching old Twilight Zone episodes and I noticed that whenever TZ has Fate or Death or an angel or some other mysterious figure, it is always a White man. Without fail. It made me realize how diverse the JoA God is. He’s been male, female, White, Black, young, old, fat, slender, poor and rich. (I can’t think of any disabilities off the top of my head, though I haven’t seen the second season. I also can’t think of any races he’s been besides White and Black.) I think that’s incredibly important too, that God reflect the entire range of the human race.

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